KDJ: Goodbye to a coach, mentor and friend

by Kevin Devaney Jr. on
Sat, Apr 8, 2017 12:22 AM

Updated Sat, Apr 8, 2017 12:23 AM
KDJ: Goodbye to a coach, mentor and friend

I lost my friend Bill Casey tonight. After two years of bravely fighting cancer, one of the strongest people I ever knew finally succumbed. Bill was 46 and is survived by his beautiful wife, Kelly, and two incredible children.

Anyone that knows Bill is probably sitting at home tonight recollecting times they spent with him; whether it be in a classroom, a softball field, a fantasy draft, a golf course or a bar stool. Bill was a guy who loved being around his friends. He managed to be the central figure in a group without being the center of attention. If you knew Bill, you loved Bill and his kindness, sincerity and genuineness made an impression on everybody he met.

Everyone has that story about Bill they love to tell. Here is something Bill taught me many years ago that I’ve never shared and I’m forever grateful for:

When I was in high school, I loved baseball. I just wasn’t as good at it as I wished. In the summer of 1997, I was selected to play on a team in the old Pepsi Tournament at Disbrow Park in Rye, one of the premier local summer events back then. On this loaded roster of All-County and college-bound players, I batted 9th and played right field. And I felt so fortunate to do so. I knew I didn’t belong.

In the championship game, our team dominated. We probably scored 20 runs and won by the mercy rule in the 5th inning. I had two hits and two RBI — which was likely the least of what anyone in the starting lineup produced in the game. Bill Casey, a family friend, was there reporting on the game for the Gannett paper (now The Journal News/LoHud).

The next day, I opened the paper and scanned the article. Towards the bottom, I read “Kevin Devaney had a double and two RBI.” It was the first time my name had ever been in print. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.

Moments later, I sat there and wondered if I would have warranted a mention in the article at all if I didn’t have a friendship with Bill. He probably just threw my name in there to be nice.

But as time went on, I began to read the articles Bill wrote more closely. The more I read, the more I realized that he went to extensive measures to include as many kids names in each story as he could. It was important to him. A double and two RBI in a 20-run game probably wouldn’t make the cut for most writers. But Bill understood what a moment like that for a 9th-place hitting right fielder means. He didn’t just do it for me. He did it for hundreds of kids he reported on in his years with the newspaper.

Thirteen months later in the fall of 1998, Bill encouraged me to take a job as a freelance writer for The Journal News. I declined the first few times. I had zero confidence in my ability and was petrified of embarrassing myself or, worse, him. I was an 18-year-old freshman at Westchester Community College who barely graduated high school. I knew I didn’t belong.

Bill pushed me to accept the assignment. It was Stepinac football. One game and one heavily edited article, and I was hooked.

Without Bill, I’d never be doing what I do. It’s been 18 years since that first assignment and I thanked him every time I could since then. I know he went out on a limb for me. But he would never accept credit. Without Bill, I wouldn’t be where I am and I probably wouldn’t love life as much as I do.

And thanks to him, I’ve never lost sight of what’s most important in my job; the primary thing I think about when I sit down and stare at the blank white page on my screen. There’s news to report and a story to tell. But there are also kids out there who’ll normally get ignored. They  play sports because it’s fun. They love putting on their uniform and trotting to the outfield. They play hard. They’re nervous. They don’t expect attention. And if they get it, they appreciate it. Like me, they never forget it.

For 18 years as a writer and broadcaster, there have been plenty of star athletes who got their share of publicity. But thanks to Bill, I’ve always tried to sprinkle in the Kevin Devaneys of the world in every article and video I create.

Bill was the older brother I never had. He introduced me to fantasy baseball when I was in the 10th grade, invited me to play on every softball team he ever organized, and included me in Friday night outings with his Pleasantville High School friends. He was there for my family in a tragic moment, confided in me during a trying time of his life, and we shared laughs even in the darkest days of his battle with cancer.

I hope I make Bill proud. He was at my final high school game as an athlete; an extra inning playoff loss in 1998 to Hen Hud in baseball. I remember clearly that day standing with my Eastchester coach Dom Cecere, who we also lost to cancer this week, and Bill Casey talking afterwards. With teammates sobbing around me, Bill remarked that I was one of the only seniors on the field who wasn’t crying. I told them that “we had nothing to be ashamed of” after losing to a better team. Cecere brought that up in our final talk as a team before boarding the bus.

Tonight, though, I cry. These were two of the most influential people in my life. Dom Cecere helped shape me as a young adult and taught me the values that come from playing sports. “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” Cecere once told me and I never forgot that. You can always start over and chart a new path. Bill Casey sent me down the path that I’ve been on for the past 18 years. I thank and love them both.

Please keep the families of Bill Casey and Dom Cecere in your hearts. They’ll forever be in mine.

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